Over to Asif

Posted: September 8, 2008 in Political
Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

Immediately after his election as president, Asif Ali Zardari has struck the right notes. He has called once more, as he did after the Feb 18 election, for a national government, urging the PML-N and the MQM to join the federal cabinet. With an overwhelming victory behind him, Asif also now speaks from a new position of strength. The presidential poll proved his party remains virtually the lone national voice, able to pick up votes in all provinces. Indeed, it swept the ballot in Sindh, NWFP and Balochistan, with the PML-N obtaining a larger share of votes only in Punjab. While the result of the presidential election was a foregone conclusion, the numbers as they came in have added strength to Mr Zardari’s position.

The priority of the new President must be to build unity. The suggestions said to be coming in that the Punjab government be toppled must be resisted. The reports stating that Mr Zardari is already in dialogue with Nawaz Sharif about the possibility of patching over differences is encouraging (The two leaders met on Monday). For the present, Mr Sharif has offered ‘positive’ opposition; those close to Mr Zardari believe he may choose to continue work for a restoration of a full-fledged coalition. The president-elect has also spoken of looming challenges. His most immediate tasks will be to tackle militancy (whose latest manifestation was a massive suicide bombing outside Peshawar over the weekend), combat federal friction and take on economic disarray. These are obviously huge missions. But the reports that Zardari is already planning new policies for FATA and for Balochistan, and has been assured of full military support by General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani are encouraging. 

The key to stability in Pakistan lies also in building greater regional harmony. Mr Zardari’s success in the presidential contest has brought in swift congratulations from India and an equally quick agreement to attend his oath-taking from Hamid Karzai in Afghanistan. These gestures from both nations offer a possible opening to making a good start with them. The reality is that cooperation with both is critical to solving Pakistan’s multi-faceted internal problems, ranging from terrorism, to food shortages to inflation. Mr Zardari has lost no time in opening up parleys with various key players within Pakistan. He must also do the same as far as Pakistan’s neighbours go.

Asif Ali Zardari, by cancelling the senseless decision of a holiday in Sindh to celebrate his victory, has also sent out a message of sorts. He has indicated he is aware of the need to work hard, and with commitment, given the national situation. But clear-cut goals and a sense of purpose need to be created. Asif Ali Zardari’s most important priority must be to give a country that sometimes seems to have lost its way, a definite sense of direction towards which it can set out, seeking a future that is more harmonious and less violent that its present.

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